Latin in English: Quid pro quo / Qui pro quo

Is Latin alive after all? I have not long ago discovered that the Latin expression “quid pro quo” (more commonly used in English) or “qui pro quo” (more commonly used in Portuguese) could have diverse meanings in different cultures. Never ever could I have imagined that Latin was not a dead language. This is at least the case of this expression, that I can assure.

Once in a conversation with a native British speaker I used the expression “qui pro quo” in the sense of a misunderstanding, “one instead of the other”, just as we Portuguese commonly do: “I told everyone that the meeting point was Tivoli in Avenida da Liberdade, in Lisbon, meaning the theatre but there was a quid pro quo, a few of our friends went to the hotel by the same name, on the other side of the avenue, and it took us almost half an hour to understand why the usual suspects were taking longer than usual to show up.” This was not that serious a “qui pro quo” but definitely my British interlocutor did not understand what I meant.

It was then that we came to the conclusion that this Latin expression had taken different ways in each of our languages. He explained to me that “quid pro quo” for English speakers meant a trade, “one for the other”: you give me apples and I give you oranges, like in a barter change, something for something, an exchange of goods or services, where one transfer is contingent upon the other. Equivalent expressions include “a favour for a favour”, “give and take”, “tit for tat”, or more colloquially “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”

There, another linguistic mystery solved… or is it? Well, I was now wondering who was actually closer to the true original meaning of this Latin expression. Alas, the Brits got us on this one! But I will not go into it. On the other hand, I promise to come back with some of the numerous French words the English language assimilated long ago and that most of us will not recognize as such, “alas” is one of these. And even though you might think this is not that common a word, how about beef?! Think about it. After all, the French commanded the cultural world for a great many time and the marks are there, even though the Brits and other English speakers have a really hard time admitting it.